South African wines are gaining a foothold in the world markets, and Jacques Scott Wine and Spirits now has a new line from Rickety Bridge to go with some of its longer-standing brands from that country. Jacques Scott wine professionals Sarah Howard and Sergio Serrano sat with Grand Old House Events Coordinator Livia Kwong to taste what South Africa has to offer over lunch prepared by Executive Chef Andy Trilk.
Not many people realize that South Africa is one of the top 10 wine-producing countries in the world, making about 10 million hectoliters of the beverage each year. That is more than double the annual production of trendy wine producing countries like New Zealand, Austria and Canada combined.
However, because South Africa was isolated from many of the world markets during its decades-long policy of apartheid, relatively few wine drinkers outside of the country knew anything about it. The commercial isolation also led to a general decline in quality because the market for superior wines was limited in South Africa’s home market.
The mid-’90s brought the end of apartheid at a time when New World wines were starting to explode onto the scene, which was also a time when wine-drinking was gaining popularity in countries outside of Europe. South Africans, who had been making wine since the mid-17th Century, were quick to revitalize their wine production volumes and processes so they could stake a claim in the world wine market.
In 2010, the football World Cup was held in South Africa, attracting attention of people around the globe, and one of the products that benefited greatly from that attention was South African wines.
The products of quite a few wineries in South African are available in the Cayman Islands, ranging from entry-level to premium wines. Whatever the quality, South African wines tend to have price points that represent good value compared to other wines of similar quality.
Because wine production in South Africa was heavily influenced by French Huguenot pilgrims, many of the wines produced come from grapes that originated in France. Chenin Blanc – a native of the Loire Valley – is one of those grapes.
When it comes to white wines, Chenin Blanc – which has been called the most underappreciated wine grape in the world by many experts – is South Africa’s bread and butter, accounting for nearly one-fifth of all vineyard plantings.
The grape has high acidity, making it good for sparkling wines, sweet wines and refreshing, dry table wines.
Grand Old House Wine Director and Assistant Manager Luciano De Riso said he finds that Chenin Blanc surprises a lot of people.
“Chenin is one of those wines that when people have it, they love it, but a lot of people don’t know what it is.”
Rickety Bridge Paulina’s Reserve Chenin Blanc (Retail price: $19.99) is a classic, refreshing South African Chenin.
“It has very crisp acidity,” said Jacques Scott wine professional Sergio Serrano.
Served ice cold, as is often the case with white wines in the Cayman Islands, aromas of lime are prominent.
“If it’s too cold, all the characteristics are lost,” said Serrano, noting that as the Rickety Bridge Chenin warms up just a bit, it displays strong aromas of pineapple and mango.
“You even get a bit of honey as it gets warm,” added Jacques Scott’s Sarah Howard.
In the mouth, Rickety Bridge Chenin is intense, its acidity lingering in the mouth. While perhaps not a wine that someone would sit and drink a lot of on its own, Rickety Bridge Chenin is perfect for pairing with food.
“It fits with the palate down here,” said Howard. “Because of the hot climate, people like crisp, refreshing wines like Sauvignon Blanc, and people would like this for the same reason.”
During the lunch, the Rickety Bridge Chenin paired nicely with Grand Old House’s tuna carpaccio served with arugula, capers and truffle oil. The acidity of the wine helped cut through the oily fish and truffle oil. Howard noted that for the same reason it would pair well with a lot of other foods, particularly dishes that were cheesy, creamy or buttery.
Two Sauvignon Blancs
Depending on where and how it is grown, Sauvignon Blanc can take on many different characteristics, so much so that New World versions sometimes bear little resemblance to French incarnations of the grape. However, usually a dominant expression of Sauvignon Blanc arises within any particular region. That’s not really the case in South Africa, a New World producer steeped in more than three-and-a-half centuries of Old World wine-making tradition.
The varying styles are quite evident in two different Sauvignon Blancs tasted at the Grand Old House lunch. The Rickety Bridge Paulina’s Reserve (Retail: $19.99) is much more like a New World Sauvignon Blanc – fruit-forward with a zesty finish – and the Southern Right (Retail: $20.99) is much more like a French rendition, with the fruit taking a back seat to minerality. Both wines are good pairings with Grand Old House’s gluten-free crab cake, with the fruitiness of the Rickety Bridge making it a bit better paring.
“But the Southern Right would be good with oysters,” said Howard.
Rickety Bridge reds
The Rickety Bridge winery is in Franschoek, a town in the Western Cape area of South Africa. Franschoek, which literally translates to “French corner,” was settled by French Huguenot refugees in the late 17th Century.
When it comes to South African wine areas, Franschoek is to nearby Stellenbosch what Sonoma Valley is to Napa Valley in California — not quite as famous, but it still produces great wines.
Wine has been produced on the Rickety Bridge farm since the 1800s, so tradition is important. As such, one of the wines Rickety Bridge produces is Pinotage (Retail:$20.99), a hybrid cross of the delicate Pinot Noir grape with the hardy Cinsaut, which is known as Hermitage in South Africa.
Pinotage gets its delicate tannic structure and high acidity from Pinot Noir and its body and robust flavor from Cinsaut. The resulting wine isn’t widely known outside of South Africa, but it is starting to gain some favour in world markets because of its ability to pair with many different foods.
The wine has a distinctive aroma – which Howard likened to a barnyard – that turns some people off, but luckily it doesn’t taste like it smells, and the aroma dissipates after a short time in the glass.
“Along with Beaujolais, it’s one of the most food-friendly wines,” said the sommelier De Riso.
Pinotage goes well with everything from burgers to spicy cuisine. Serrano said it would go well with game foods like boar, venison and duck. At lunch, it was paired with pan-seared foie gras, a Grand Old House specialty, and although Pinotage wouldn’t be the first choice of pairing for the ultra-rich dish, it held its own. Even better with the foie gras was Rickety Bridge’s The Foundation Stone, (Retail: $20.99) a Rhone Valley-like blend of Shiraz, Tannat, Mourverde, Cinsaut and Grenache.
“If you were to choose one of these wines from South Africa to start out with, I would choose this one because it’s friendly and familiar,” Howard noted.
When it comes to red wines beyond Pinotage, South Africa – perhaps because of its deep French wine-making heritage – produces more blends than it does single-varietal wines, with Bordeaux-style blends the most prevalent.
One of the better known blended wines is Kanonkop’s Paul Sauer (Retail: $43.99), a Left Bank-style Bordeaux blend that in 2008 consisted of 69 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 22 percent Cabernet Franc and 9 percent Merlot.
This is a well-balanced red that has flavours of red berries and black currents, with a touch of smokiness. Kanonkop is one of South Africa’s iconic wineries and Paul Sauer is its flagship wine, one that sells out annually in the producing country. Wine of this quality from Bordeaux would cost considerably more, which makes Paul Sauer worth a try for those looking to experience what South Africa offers at a higher price level.